When author, journalist, radio personality and activist Raqiyah Mays was growing up, she’d often hear women in her family whisper about a curse that had befallen them. They’d call it “the man curse.” “The women would talk sarcastically and jokingly about how this man curse kept them single and unmarried,” shares Mays.
While the tone may have been light and fun at the Mays’ household when the matriarchs discussed the curse, in the author’s debut novel, The Man Curse, Mays takes a thought-provoking look into the damaging effects of accepting generational hexes as truth through protagonist Meena.
“She is on a journey to self-love, and she is discovering her own path in life. Meena wants to break free from this curse,” explains Mays, who labels her novel “self-help fiction.” “You have to look at yourself and make a conscious decision to make a change. I want women to know that finding who you are and what life you want to live isn’t easy, but it’s very necessary.”
EBONY: How did the story for man curse come to fruition?
Raqiyah Mays: I’ve had this idea since I was a teenager. There were whispers of the man curse in my family. When I began to travel, grow and meet women, they would whisper that they have this curse in their families. It took me 10 years to write this book because life gets in the way. I didn’t get into my writing groove until I moved to L.A. in 2011. During that two-year period is when I finally finished the book.
This book was in my head forever. I’ve been carrying this book with me for a really long time. It’s been healing for me. As I share it with other women, it has been healing for them. With my writing, it’s always been about informing and inspiring. With this novel, it was important to get this off my chest and out in the world. I’ve had other ideas, but I had to get this one out.
EBONY: Meena’s story is one of self-empowerment, but you also explore how parents can unwittingly pass on their insecurities to their children, which is the case with Meena and her mother. She desperately wants to break this generational curse.
RM: I had one older man in his 50s who has been married 20 years and has grown kids. He said he loved the book, but what really resonated with him was the parent and child relationship. He said it made him think about his relationship with his father and his daughter. As adults, we have issues that we haven’t worked out. We sometimes pass those on to our children. It becomes a cycle.
I’m a parent, and it’s a work in progress to do the right thing. Sometimes you do have issues because we are all human. Children are impressionable; they watch closely and pick things up. We don’t realize until we are adults that we are playing out the same things our mom or dad did. It isn’t until we get therapy or start our self-help journey that we see the damage.
EBONY: How does one break these negative family cycles?
RM: It’s important to be mindful, conscious and honest. With our Generation X, we tend to be very honest with our parents. The baby boomers, our parents, tend to be very secretive. There are things they just don’t talk about it. There are secrets in families. What I found is that being honest and expressing yourself is important. It’s okay to talk about what we are going through and what we have gone through.
I spoke at a domestic violence shelter to talk about the cycle abuse that I deal with in the book. I read one of the chapters that dealt with abuse. The room was packed with different generations and races. I explained to them that you have to have this conversation with your children because they have been exposed to violence. Now that they have been exposed to it, they are susceptible to continuing this cycle of violence, whether it means becoming an abuser or being the one abused. If we are going to break the cycle, we have to be honest with our mistakes. It has to be an ongoing conversation.
EBONY: Were the women in the book inspired by your personal journey and the women in your family?
RM: All fiction comes from fact. There was some domestic violence in my family growing up. I don’t remember seeing it, I remember hearing about it. When you have those type of cycles, it affects you. When I’m in the shelters, I always let the women know that we have to use these experiences to empower us. We are not victims, we are survivors.
Are there things in the book I experienced or people I know have? Yes. I wrote it from the perspective of having Meena do everything I wish I had done in my twenties. Meena found her way a whole lot sooner than I did, that’s for sure.
EBONY: Was writing this novel a cathartic experience for you?
RM: It was, absolutely. It helped me work out a lot of things and gain some perspective on a lot of things. That’s a great question. This is why I carried this story for so long. There is a lot of Meena in me.
EBONY: Being that this is a self-help fiction novel, what do you hope readers come away with after reading The Man Curse?
RM: I want my readers to come away with the fact that you are not alone. We all go through these things. Sometimes we block ourselves from love. We get scared, and we all have insecurities. It becomes our responsibility to deal with these things. You can no longer blame mom or dad. You have to look at yourself and make a conscious decision to make a real change. Making the change means being brave enough to be vulnerable and feel the fear.
Bravery is not this false superwoman narrative. It’s okay to need help and get help. It’s okay to talk to somebody and it’s absolutely necessary to step back to take care of ourselves. Some of us walk around thinking we are so confident and that we love ourselves. It’s a whole internal conversation we need to have to be truly confident and have self-love. It’s a daily process to get there.
It’s important to be patient with yourself. I hope Meena’s journey will inspire women and they can get some tips from the book. It’s really not about a man in the end.
EBONY: Is this message of slowing down and focusing on yourself one that Black women need to hear?
RM: We as women are responsible to take care of everything first and then us last. Black women historically have been the one holding the family together since slavery. I think what this has done is made us hard and emotionally unavailable. It has hardened us and it can work against us. When it comes to our personal life and how we take care of ourselves, many of us are suffering. We haven’t taken time for ourselves. I’m not a relationship guru. I’ve had my own ups and downs. I’m all about consciousness and mindfulness. We can’t deal with the problem ’til we figure out where it comes from.
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she’s not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and magazines. Check out her work and blog at AlexandraPhanor.com.